UCL Grand Challenges


India Voices

The Grand Challenge of Cultural Understanding worked on a number of initiatives under the heading India Voices throughout 2017 and 2018. The programme was cross-disciplinary in scope while being grounded in disciplinary excellence. Through community engaged research, public and academic discourse and policy engagement, the aim of India Voices was to effect social impact. Read more here.

The Centre for the Study of South Asia and the Indian Ocean World has now picked up the baton of examining the subcontinent at UCL. It promotes research and teaching related to the geographical region of South Asia and its intersections with the wider world, including the South Asian diaspora.


This image was taken by UCL PhD student Jennifer Martin. Her research is supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (NIHR CLAHRC) North Thames.

Difficult Dialogues 2018

Difficult Dialogues is an annual forum examining issues of contemporary relevance in South Asia, with a different yearly theme. Over three days, the forum hosts intensive discussions between diverse stakeholders: from policy makers, academics, and civil society, to politicians, leaders from media, business and international organizations, and rising young leaders. All discussions are managed to be respectful, factually accurate, and courageous.

At Difficult Dialogues 2018, UCL academics are moderating discussions relating to Gender, Fatherhood and Families (Professor Margaret O'Brien); Gender, Masculinities and Violence (Professor David Osrin); and Transforming Gender Norms - Evidence of What Works? (Professor Sarah Hawkes)

You can read more about the events, taking place in February 2018, on the Difficult Dialogues website.

Prof Marie Lall on her Difficult Dialogue

UCL Pro-Vice Provost (South Asia), Prof Marie Lall, discusses the problem of working in silos in academia, something that the Grand Challenges are trying to help fix.


You can see more videos from the India Voices series, including from the Difficult Dialogues events in Goa, on YouTube.

Previous India Voices events

Difficult Dialogues: forum of events held in Goa

In February 2017, Difficult Dialogues partnered with the National Health Mission of the Government of India and UCL to explore the ambition of Health For All: an examination of the grand challenge India faces in providing access to high quality healthcare for all citizens. It included discussions under four broad themes: Inequalities in Health and Healthcare; Perceptions of Gender and Consequences for Health; Universal Health (Care) Coverage; and The Changing Burden of Disease.

Find out more about the Difficult Dialogues series

March 2017

Film Screening: Viceroy's House

Gurinder Chadha, the director of Bhaji on the Beach (1993), Bend It Like Beckham (2002) and Bride and Prejudice (2004) screened and discussed her latest film, Viceroy's House with a panel of UCL academics including Professor Margot Finn and Professor Chris Pinney, chaired by Dr Jagjeet Lally.

April 2017

Talk: Indian Ocean Histories and Modern Art with Dr Subodh Kerkar from the Museum of Goa

Trained as a doctor, Kerkar has been producing installations for over 20 years, which he has exhibited in India and around the world. Dr Kerkar spoke about how he tells history through artwork, with a response from Dr Sujit Sivasundaram (University of Cambridge), and chaired by Dr Jagjeet Lally (UCL).

Conference: Mahatma Gandhi in the 21st Century: Gandhian Themes and Values

This conference covered Gandhian perspectives on justice, education, nonviolence, and health, as well as a focus on village India and how innovations can help the poor and needy so as to help reduce inequalities in society.

May 2017

Panel discussion: Difficult Dialogues: Health and Gender in India

Prof Michael Arthur, President & Provost of UCL chaired a discussion and debate on the challenges to gender justice that call for pressing cultural, social, and policy reform, and the mechanisms through which to effect this.

In Conversation with Talvin Singh

Musician, programmer and producer Talvin Singh, winner of the 1999 Mercury Music Prize, was in conversation with Tariq Jazeel in an event hosted by the IAS in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of South Asia. Singh discussed his current and early work, the role of creativity, experimentation and fluidity in his music, as well as its broader relevance for Britain's South Asian diaspora, for British multiculture more generally, and in India and beyond.

Lecture: Urvashi Butalia

Feminist author and publisher Urvashi Butalia delivered the third annual Cities Imaginaries lecture at UCL Urban Laboratory. The talk focused on the story of Mona Ahmed, a hijra, in the city of Delhi. The story unfold through the friendship between two women, and their extended conversations over more than a decade, and explored issues of urban life, citizenship, marginality and sexuality.

Film screening: Cities of Sleep

In one of the first UK screenings, Urban Lab Films presented the award-winning Cities of Sleep, a documentary displaying the tremendous social and political pressure that sleep exerts on the homeless in Delhi, where securing a safe sleeping spot can often become a question of life and death. We were joined by the director and an expert panel for a post-screening discussion.

Lecture: Urban Futures and Climate Change in India: impacts and implications

Aromar Revi discussed the contradictions and congruities of Indian urban futures in the context of climate change, drawing out some of the key implications for governance, planning and education. Revi is the Director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), India's prospective independent national University for Research & Innovation addressing its urbanisation challenges through an integrated programme of education, research, practice and training.

June 2017

Film screening: Beyond the Adorned Veil

This film tells the story of the women who perform Lavani - a traditional dance form from Maharashtra - and explores the places where the dance is performed. Their stories are full of love, pain, power, seduction, survival, expectations, dreams and ultimately segregation from Indian society. Followed by a Q&A with the film's director, Savitri Medhatul, and producer Bhushan Korgaonkar.

Interactive: Lavani dance workshop

Savitri Medhatul ran an English-language introduction to Lavani choreography, singing, body language and improvisation techniques.

Seminar: Lessons from Lavani

Savitri Medhatul and Bhushan Korgaonkar discussed how they have engaged over the last decade with the orientation, history and practice of Lavani. They spoke about how their interests in Lavani developed and the challenges and opportunities they encountered. In particular they seek to open up a focus on how traditional cultural forms can be reactivated and reimagined for urban audiences without compromising their social relevance, and outline possible further thematic routes and collaborations for their research and activities on Lavani.

Film Screening: Aligarh

A film inspired by the real life ordeal of 64-year-old Professor Siras who was suspended by Aligarh University, ostracised, and subjected to psychological torture because of his sexual orientation. Followed by a discussion with the film's screenplay writer, Apurva Asrani, and UCL historian Dr Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite.

Photo exhibition and dialogue: Photographing Communities of Belonging

A discussion with noted photographers Sunil Gupta and Charan Singh (authors of the photo book, Delhi: Communities of Belonging), as well as Drag King India Project founder Indu Antony, and Queerala Artists collective founder Jiji Kuriakose to learn about their work, their subjects, and the power of photography and art to capture private personas and public lives led against the backdrop of homophobia.

Lecture: Seeds of Culture

A lunchtime lecture with experts from UCL and India, taking a look at the fascinating history of the healing plants of India. They were documented through colonial times and their properties are now being confirmed with modern scientific methods.

Lecture: Sustainability and Survival: How the UK can cut the cost of health tech

Dr Prashant Jha, Fellowship Director of the BioDesign program at the School Of International Biodesign, AIIMS, New Delhi, spoke about affordable medical innovation. Dr Jha has developed a range of medical devices and trains health tech leaders. Does he have something to teach the UK, in the quest to adopt cheaper, smarter health technologies?

21st June - UCL India Voices Festival

A celebration of the UCL India Voices season: with fascinating presentations and discussion with student and academic speakers addressing a range of topics including - challenging gender inequality, catastrophe prevention; using architecture to create healthier communities, engineering innovations for wheelchair-accessible cities, and other innovative studies tackling some of the most intractable problems facing India today.

The talks were followed with performances by Bollywood playback singer Sukanya Purkayastha (Vicky Donor, Karthik calling Karthik) and live musicians. There was also food, drinks, and stalls to explore and learn about UCL student activities.